Jeff Monken is not a rah-rah kind of guy, Even after a victory his voice has the tonality of someone who just lost his car keys. Well, a 34-31 loss to Tulane apparently lingered. Three days after Army’s last-second loss to the Green Wave the Army head coach sounded more like someone who had just heard his house had burned down.
“What a finish to the ball game it was,” he said. “We found a way to battle back and we had it tied at the end, but we just couldn’t find a way to keep them from scoring that field goal. That is the second time that has happened this year, having a ball go through the uprights as time expires. It’s a tough way to lose, but I don’t know if there is an easy way to lose.”
Surely not. The Black Knights’ are 2-8, and the ability to stay competitive in all but one of those losses might have initially served as some sort of salve, at least for a few weeks. Now?
“We may be going through some tough times right now and it may not look like it’s going our way. But if we remain determined and continue to fight, it’s going to go our way,” Monken said. “We’re going to turn the tide and I don’t have any doubt about that. It’s why I’m not going to get discouraged and I’m not going to grow weary of the fight. I hope those guys will, too. Everybody in their life experiences has rough patches. In their marriage, or a sickness in their family or themselves, you can throw in the white towel or get discouraged and feel sorry for yourself or you can fight. I choose to fight and hopefully the guys in this room that meet with us every day and go on the practice field are learning to fight, too. I think just the way we have handled disappointments this year, defeats, and come back and battled the next week, there hasn’t been a time where effort has been a problem or attitude has been a problem. That has not been it at all. I’m proud of this team and proud of the effort and resiliency they’ve shown. Those are the things I hope these guys are learning.”
One thing Army did do Saturday was come back from a 28-7 deficit, thanks largely to two touchdowns – one off a blocked punt – in the final two minutes of the first half. The Black Knights tied the game with 1 minute, 59 seconds left. But Tulane used every one of those seconds to work itself into field-goal position, which it kicked as time expired. It was the second such loss of the season. Army lost to Wake Forest in the third game of the season, 17-14, on a last-second field goal.
“As we go through a season and the longer we were around, I don’t know if we can keep people from kicking a field goal,” Monken said. I’d like to keep people from getting the opportunity. I’d like to keep them from getting the ball at the 23 or whatever it was with 1:59 left, or have them go three and out or four and out. I’d like to see that scenario much more than them kicking a field goal.”
Obviously. The toughest part, he said, is, as the season nears its conclusion, Monken gets more and more commiseration from players who have spent four years at West Point and are assured of their fourth losing season. None of these guys has a realistic chance of extending their football careers beyond this season. The Black Knights play Rutgers Saturday, but surely the biggest remaining motivation they have is taking out Navy, which the Black Knights have not done for 13 straight years.
“I was having a discussion with one of our seniors,” Monken said. “He was discouraged. This season hasn’t gone the way he had hoped and his class had hoped and our whole team and what we set our sights on, but I told him there are going to be stretches in your life when things don’t go your way. If you just hang your head and feel sorry for yourselves they’re never gonna get turned around. You’re gonna wait for someone to turn it around for you. You’ve got to get around defeat and disappointment and be determined that its going to get better. To keep fighting.”
Invariably, for an Army student-athlete, perspective need come into play.
“I don’t know if there’s a better lesson for our guys because they’ll be leading other men,” he said. “The men sitting in this room will be face to face with an enemy that doesn’t want them just to lose on a football field, but want to kill, and that’s a much bigger battle in a much bigger game than we’re playing on Saturday afternoons. There may be times when things don’t go their way and if they let discouragement creep in then they’re going to continue to lose the fight, but if they stay determined they can encourage others to stay determined and continue to fight and then they’ll have a chance to win. That’s the same lesson we’re teaching these guys here. They may be going through some tough times now and they may not look like its going our way, but if we remain determined and continue to fight we’re gonna turn the tide. I don’t have any doubt. That’s why I’m not going to get discouraged. I’m not going to grow weary of the fight. I think the way we’ve handled disappointment and defeats this year and come back and battled the next week there’s never been a time when effort has been a problem. Our attitude has not been a problem. I’m proud of this team and the effort and the resiliency they’ve shown and those are the things I hope these guys are like.”
Hopefully. But for the time being, their competitors are running and passing and tackling and kicking. A short-lived priority, but still the current one.
Monken is no Rex Ryan.
Against Tulane, with a 7-0 lead, Army had a chance to take a 10-0 lead on a short field goal. Instead, the Black Knights faked the field goal and the pass for a touchdown failed. Tulane tied the game 7-7 shortly thereafter. It wasn’t a very good pass from DeAndre Bell, but Kelvin White did catch it, but could not stay inbounds. Blame could have been assessed to either one. Monken would not permit either. Following the game, he took the fall for not going for the field goal. That is Monken’s blueprint. Take the fall, or hand off the credit.
“Well, if you’re a leader worth your salt you’ll always take more of the blame than you deserve and give more of the credit than is due,” he said.